Grant will help digitize North Carolina slave records

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A North Carolina university has received a $300,000 grant to help digitize slave deed records from across the state.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reports the grant was awarded to UNC Greensboro by the National Historic Publications and Records Commission. The money will fund the expansion of a project to digitize nearly 10,000 slave deeds and bills of sale from 26 counties across the state.

Once digitized, the records will go into a searchable database accessible to the public.

"It's a massive project," Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger said. "It's not a simple task to go back through records in every courthouse in the South, find all of the slave deed records, digitize them and make them available."

Reisinger says slaves were traded across county lines and state lines, so having one county didn't do much for people looking for their ancestors. Reisinger said it would be incredibly useful to have a statewide database or a national database.

Reisinger launched a similar project in 2012 after realizing that slave deeds and bills of sale were considered property records, and therefore, were housed in his office. The records were made digital and uploaded to a countywide database, allowing community members, historians and descendants of slave owners to search the materials for references to their past.

The 26 counties were selected by a number of criteria, including if the county was established prior to the 1865 and if the county had already digitized any of their records. A mix of eastern, western, urban and rural counties was selected as the first to be digitized, with the hope that People Not Property will include records from every county in the state.

UNC Greensboro will work in collaboration with the North Carolina State Archives, the Afro-American Genealogical Society, professors, students, volunteers, and county registrars across the state to implement and expand the project, said Richard Cox, digital technology consultant at the university, who is the project lead.

The federal grant funding will help pay for a project coordinator to work with students and volunteers, as well as the costs associated with getting data from the 26 selected counties indexed, add metadata, scanned and transcribed, Cox said.

"Public records in a public agency are the people's records, and it makes sense to be available to everyone," Reisinger said. "Not every office has the resources to do that though - some counties just have one or two employees - but this grant will help us get there."